Problem: In a world of accelerating intellectual and social upheaval, education cannot focus simply on transmitting a body of knowledge. Schools must move into the role of social transformers and unifieres. Hence the main task of schools is not academic instruction, but moral training and development.
Solution: The perspective of this paper is that all genuine moral education today must rest upon and express the consciousness of the oneness of humankind. The unifying moral principles that are implied by this ideal should structure the whole learning environment.
Education: A New Framework
The main task of education until now has been the transmission of traditions and information to new generations. Education thus has seen its purposes as operating within a relatively static state of information and social possibility. But in today's world of accelerating intellectual and social upheaval, education cannot focus simply on transmitting a body of knowledge. Schools must move into the role of social transformers. Such transformation must rest upon a unifying moral foundation in order to channel these powerful forces of change and creativity. Hence the main task of schools is not academic instruction, but moral training and development. This moral training should enable students to harmonize conflicting forces in their environment and through service to others to build new, more inclusive social relations.
Moral education is usually thought of as acquiring virtues such aslove, justice and tolerance through stories, examples, discussion, modelling games, and the like. But conceived in this manner moral education remains only a subject of special study. A deeper understanding of moral values identifies them as expressions of the inner forces that operate in the spiritual reality of every human being. That is, they are themselves dynamic, positive forces of change seeking proper and full expression. Baha'u'llah, Founder of the Baha'i Faith, stated: "Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom. " Education must concern itself with bringing these gems out of the human spirit. How?
The perspective of this paper is that all genuine moral education today must rest upon and express the consciousness of the oneness of humankind. At every level, the unifying moral principles that are implied by this ideal should not be just objects of study, a part of the intellectual content of learning, but should structure the whole learning process. To realize ever more fully the oneness of humanity in all its aspects is the shaping purpose of education.
Such a consciousness is not just exemplified in the behavior of teachers and students, it should also be expressed in the organization of the academic curriculum. That is, subjects ought to be taught in ways that unify and promote human consciousness and moral aspiration. Religion, for example, may be taught in a way that shows the essential unity of all religions, thereby quenching fires of religious prejudice. History may be taught so that students see civilization-building as an ever-advancing process to which all peoples have made important contributions.
This paper, basing itself on the Baha'i teachings, outlines a framework of a comprehensive moral education. It discusses the purposes of education, the social environment of the school, and the relations between teachers and students. It also discusses the design of the curriculum, providing some conceptual models for different subjects that bring out the virtues, or inner spiritual forces, that these subjects can exemplify.
Resume: William Barnes is principal of Daystar International School in Kumamoto City, Japan. He's also on the Board of Directors of International Educational Initiatives, a non-profit organization devoted to creating curricula and other materials for spiritually-based educational models around the world. His main scholarly interest lies in exploring the role of moral education in social development.